Home is where people feel safest and most comfortable.
But people should know that hazards to their health can be found in every home. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine recently released a list of ten hazards commonly found in homes.
The first is tobacco smoke. “There is no safe level of smoke,” Richmond County Director of Health Tommy Jarrell said. “Don’t smoke indoors.”
Obviously, he would hope that people would not smoke at all. “It’s not healthy for them and certainly not healthy for the other people in the home.”
Jarrell warned that while some products advertise the ability to remove smoke and that some people will open a window, “smoke is going to travel throughout a house.”
People should know that secondhand smoke can increase the incidence of inner ear infections, asthma and other respiratory diseases in children. “Children are more vulnerable than others are,” he said.
Adults with health conditions are at a higher risk of issues with smoke as well.
Smoke is a potential allergen but the ACOEM warns allergy sufferers of other hazards as well. “Porous, water-damaged materials frequently grow molds and other organisms that can cause allergies and other illnesses,” Jarrell said.
The Environmental Protection Agency advises people to fix leaks and other moisture problems. Humidifiers should not be used unless they are cleaned as instructed by the manufacturer. Animals should be kept outside or at least out of bedrooms and brushed outside. Mattresses and pillows should be wrapped in allergy-proof covers.
Jarrell warns that household products, especially cleaners, can pose a hazard. They should be kept out of the reach of children in either locked cabinets or on high shelves. He said a common spot, under the sink, is often within the reach of children and if used should be kept locked.
“Kids can get there easily,” he said. “Toddlers love to open doors and play in cabinets.”
ACOEM warns that chemicals should not be mixed unless directed by the manufacturer. Persons should contact their local fire department or health department to learn how and when to dispose of hazardous chemicals.
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that can be found in some homes. It can cause cancer, especially in smokers. Marc Sessions, a firefighter and educator with the Wadesboro Fire Department, advised residents to look to the EPA and the National Fire Protection Association online for information about many common household hazards. Radon testing kits can be found online and in some retailers and hardware stores.
ACOEM advises people to avoid asbestos if they encounter the material. Asbestos was commonly used as insulation from 1920 to 1978. Exposure to small amounts does not normally cause problems but larger amounts can cause lung cancer or other diseases. “Only specially trained and licensed contractors should remove asbestos,” the organization warns.
More than 1 million American children are diagnosed with lead poisoning each year and those who are at risk should be tested. Lead can be found in some households, usually in paint or old pipes. The EPA advises only using cold water to prepare food and for drinking water. Like asbestos, the removal of lead should only be conducted by properly certified professionals. Lead can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth in children, seizures, coma and even death.
The closed environment of a home can make combustible gases given off by some appliances particularly dangerous. Devices like portable kerosene heaters should not be used indoors unvented. Gas stoves should have an exhaust hood. Chimneys and furnaces should be cleaned annually and homeowners should install carbon monoxide detectors. This and other combustible gasses can cause flu-like symptoms, respiratory illness and death. According to the NFPA, carbon monoxide can poison a person with a small amount of the gas over a long period of time or a large amount of gas over a short time frame.
“Americans benefit from one of the safest water supplies in the world but problems have occurred from time to time,” according to ACOEM. Public systems conduct regular tests and citizens who own wells should also test their water. Common tests are for nitrates and bacteria but wells in some areas might need to be tested for radon, pesticides and organic chemicals.
Pesticides, if used, should be stored and maintained properly. ACOEM recommends that people use natural means if possible to reduce pests. For example, storing firewood away from the home can reduce the danger of insects that destroy wood from infecting the home. Food should be kept in tight containers and food preparation areas should be cleaned regularly. Pesticides should never be kept in unlabeled containers.
Finally, one of the most common household hazards is food poisoning. Food should be refrigerated below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooked perishable food should be promptly refrigerated and cutting boards should be washed after each use. Raw or undercooked eggs should not be eaten and raw meats should not come into contact with other food that will not be well-cooked.
For more information, visit www.epa.gov/kidshometour/tour.htm.
— Justin Allen can be reached at 704-694-2161, or firstname.lastname@example.org.